Electoral College Reform: 111th Congress Proposals and Other Current Developments [September 13, 2010]   [open pdf - 329KB]

"American voters elect the President and Vice President indirectly, through presidential electors. Established by Article II, Section 1, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, this electoral college system has evolved continuously since the first presidential elections. Despite a number of close contests, this arrangement has selected the candidate with the most popular votes in 48 of 52 presidential elections since the current voting system was established by the 12th Amendment in time for the 1804 contest. Three times, however, candidates were elected who won fewer popular votes than their opponents (1876, 1888, 2000), and in a fourth (1824), four candidates split the popular and electoral vote, leading to selection of the President by the House of Representatives. These controversial elections occurred because the system requires a majority of electoral, not popular, votes to win the presidency. This feature, which is original to the U.S. Constitution, has been the object of persistent criticism and numerous reform plans. In the contemporary context, proposed constitutional amendments generally fall into two basic categories: those that would eliminate the electoral college and substitute direct popular election of the President and Vice President, and those that would retain the existing system in some form, while correcting its perceived defects. In the absence of congressional action since 1977, proponents of direct election have in recent years advanced the National Popular Vote (NPV) plan, a non-constitutional reform option. NPV would bypass the electoral college system through a multi-state compact enacted by the states. Relying on their constitutional authority to appoint electors, NPV would commit participating states to choose electors committed to the candidates who received the most popular votes nationwide, notwithstanding results within the state. NPV would become effective when adopted by states that together possess a majority of electoral votes (270). Since 2006, the compact has been introduced in the legislatures of all 50 states and the District of Columbia during at least one session. At the present time, six states with a combined total of 73 electoral votes (Hawaii, 4; Illinois, 21; Maryland, 10; Massachusetts, 12; New Jersey, 15; and Washington, 11) have approved the compact."

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CRS Report for Congress, R40895
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